Wednesday, May 14

Complicated relationships: mothers and daughters

The fight was over the location of a pizza. I offered to get the frozen pizza from the freezer in the garage, forgetting they had a small chest freezer. She got angry that I didn't look in the right place. Words were exchanged and then the blow landed. Her left hand. She's right handed so I was impressed by the sting though that big ol' wedding ring helped add to the power of the impact. She tried to hit me again but I was able to grab her arms and prevent that. I could see the surprise in her eyes. I made it clear that hitting me was no longer an option.

I was angry. I didn't say anything I've regretted, but I think the exchange alerted her to a situation she hadn't considered. And when I threatened to leave she became conciliatory. We apologized. We talked. The damage, however, is done. In fact, it is compounded because it brought to the fore that which I'd left behind years ago.

Two people today told me at different times that they know she loves me. I had a flashback to a moment when I was in the 6th grade and she said to me through clenched teeth that she had to love me but she didn't have to like me. It's hard to forget something like that.

It wasn't until I was nearly 40 that I realized I really don't need her love, or what passes for love from her. I'm well aware of her own complicated relationship with her own mother. I'm well aware of how much she resented the relationship I had with her mother. I'm well aware of many things, though I know I'm equally clueless of others and I have to be careful not to be smug about what I think I know.

I'd like her respect, but I don't need it. I truly don't care about her love because I know there are others who love me, truly love me. I want to honor her and respect her because she is my mother, because of what she has taught me about difficult and complicated relationships.

Some years ago I met a woman who is an amazing individual. She has great kids and a great marriage. But her story is horrifying and yet the woman she is, the mother she is, the wife she is was shaped by how she chose to survive her relationship with her mother. And I do mean survive. She rose about that relationship and experience; she chose not to let it define her. She chose not to be a victim and not to play the martyr. Because of my brief friendship with her, I've been able to put my own complicated relationship with my mother in perspective, and I've learned to try not to be defined by her perspective of me; I've learned not to be the victim nor to play the martyr.

What I realize from this is that mother-daughter relationships are complex, even the really good relationships. Mine is not normal, but I believe it's not as abnormal as some might think. What I realize is that we learn a great deal about ourselves because of and from our mothers. What I realize is that I can continue to shape the kind of person I can be and want to be because of my mother, because of what is similar and different about us, because of the person I am because of her and in spite of her.

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